One of mine that really stands out happened not long after I’d seen Sir Ken Robinson’s influential and brilliant Creativity Ted Talk.
We had a particularly troubled and troublesome lad (who I’ll call Ben for the sake of clarity)who would do no work in class, and instead, spent his time drawing graffiti all over his jotters, his neighbours’ jotters, any available scrap of paper, and failing that, the desk. Ben was driving his teacher up the wall. None of this was improved by the fact that any attempt to challenge his behaviour was very likely to result in an escalating response and counter-response that on more than one occasion led to his being excluded.
One day, and with Sir Ken’s words ringing in my ears, I decided to try challenging him in a different way. I saw him writing on his jotter, and asked him if he had heard of ‘Banksy’. He hadn’t, so we ended up having a great chat about how sometimes graffiti could be political, and worthwhile. I made a deal with him (yes… a teacher making a deal!), find out about Banksy and the history of political graffiti, and I’d help him complete his English folio. In time honoured fashion, I never saw him again. I have no idea he wrote about Banksy for his folio, and I’m fairly certain he wasn’t too interested in the history of graffiti… but at least I’d tried.
I’d see him in the corridors from time to time after that, and always asked how things were going. Within a year, he’d left and I didn’t think about him for a long time.
3 or 4 years years later, I bumped into Ben again. On leaving school, he had discovered Punk and looked truly frightening… leopard hair, bondage jeans, piercings all over his face… in short, the sort of young person who will send most people heading in the other direction. He was, of course, in a group of others, and they had been drinking. This was about the time I was beginning to wish that I had made a will.
“Mr Winton!” There’s nothing like a well timed shout from a scary ex-pupil to stop you in your tracks.
He came rushing towards me and before I could do anything, had his hand out and was giving me a great big smile.
“You’re the best teacher I ever had…” (I bet he says that to all his ex-teachers!)”…thanks to you, I’m at college doing graphic design. I’m hoping to get into Art school next year…”He turned to his posse. “He’s the teacher I told you about. The one who knew who Banksy is.” Within minutes, I had been accepted, and Ben was taking great delight in discussing the Banksy film Exit Through The Gift Shop with me.
A few minutes later, and we said our goodbyes and I left feeling very proud of Ben and really pleased to have had a brief update on his journey.
So, what made the difference? I think it was that I took an interest all those years ago. I didn’t fit into the usual pattern that had become well established at school. I drew on my own (very limited) knowledge of graffiti and Banksy, and challenged Ben to channel what he was doing into something that might be of use to him. This was entirely as a result of Sir Ken’s creativity talk. I looked for the positives in what Ben could do, and wanted to do.
I had not realised how much of an impact my throwaway challenge had made on him. Unbeknown to me, he did go off, found Banksy, became inspired, and started chasing Graphic design courses. If he hadn’t, I suspect he’d be in regular trouble with the police by now.
Sometimes, we need to forget the academic, and think about what is best for the young person in front of us. On this occasion, I got it right… but I do worry about all the other times I don’t.